Throughout his 39 years, Burbank High alumnus Freddy Sanchez has known two sides of clubfoot.
The 2006 National League batting champion with the Pittsburgh Pirates was born with a right clubfoot and a pigeon-toed left foot.
Around 150,000-200,000 babies per year are afflicted with clubfoot, which the Mayo Clinic describes as “a range of foot abnormalities usually present at birth (congenital) in which your baby’s foot is twisted out of shape or position. In clubfoot, the tissues connecting the muscles to the bone (tendons) are shorter than usual.”
Surgery at a young age corrected his clubfoot, but not without cost, as Sanchez believes his Major League Baseball career that saw him win the 2010 World Series as a member of the San Francisco Giants was cut short.
Throughout the years, Sanchez endured aches and pains and turned to ice packs and hot baths for relief.
For the Glendale Community College Hall of Famer, triumph through pain seemed natural. Sanchez even reached the point where his sons — Evan, 12, and Ryan, 9 — asked their father about his habits.
“I think the clubfoot affects the knee down and it started to take a toll on my body as I was playing and I was doing a lot of rehab, just trying to stay on the field,” Sanchez said. “They would ask, ‘Why are you icing your ankle and why are you doing this?’ That was probably 2-3 years ago when we finally starting talking about it and letting them know about it.”
For all the obstacles, Sanchez carved himself a wonderful career that spanned parts of 10 seasons and included stops in Boston, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. The right-handed infielder finished with a .297 career batting average over 904 games and 3,402 at-bats.
It seemed like there wasn’t much to learn or experience, nor was there a need for new experiences in regard to clubfoot.
So, when Sanchez, his wife Alissa (a former Burbank High cheerleader) and their two sons agreed to participate in festivities for World Clubfoot Awareness Day (June 3) in Iowa, assumptions were non-existent.
“We didn’t have any expectations,” Freddy Sanchez said. “We just wanted to see the facilities and the center and we left there taken aback. It was just a great, great experience.”
The family left their Chandler, Ariz. home on May 31 and returned from Iowa on June 5 with many memories and a different perspective.
The Sanchez family participated in several events with one highlight being a tour of the University of Iowa and its athletic facilities by Hawkeyes football coach Kirk Ferentz.
“I love the USC Trojans, but now I have a second favorite team and it’s the Iowa Hawkeyes,” Freddy Sanchez said. “Everyone at Iowa was so friendly and inviting and the weather was beautiful. There wasn’t anything I could have asked for.”
Alissa Sanchez agreed.
“I guess I wasn’t expecting everyone to be as welcoming as they were,” she said. “The University of Iowa gave us individual private tours and they gave us all T-shirts and they gave my boys all sorts of goodies.”
Freddy Sanchez was the guest of honor at the Ponseti Kids for a Cause Triathlon, which took place June 3 in Coralville, Iowa. Sanchez signed autographs before and after the competition and kicked off the event, which was geared for children from 7-14.
It was on this specific day that the Sanchez family ran into a particularly inspiring child: Julius Thukral of St. Paul, Minn.
The 14-year-old was born with two clubfeet, but still participated in the triathlon.
“I don’t know if it surprised me or caught me off guard, but when I thought of clubfoot, I didn’t think of dual clubfeet,” Freddy Sanchez said. “I just figured everyone was born with one. So, when I got out there, we met a couple of kids that were born with both and … it gave me a new perspective.”
Thukral is an avid soccer player and skier.
“Julius is an amazing kid and an inspiration to my children,” Alissa Sanchez said. “To see him out there competing and overcoming clubfeet, it was wonderful.”
Despite Thukral’s condition, the youngster has an advantage that Freddy Sanchez never had.
Thukral’s family doesn’t have to opt for painful surgery as Sanchez did decades earlier. Thukral is undergoing specialized treatment for his feet using the Ponseti Method, which was named after former University of Iowa orthopedic surgeon Ignacio Ponseti of Spain.
The method calls for gentle rubbing, manipulating and ultimately reshaping of the clubfoot using a plaster cast over the course of a few years.
“When we saw Julius, golly, he’s got two club feet and he’s riding his bike, swimming and he’s doing everything,” Freddy Sanchez said. “It just made you feel good that the Ponseti Method can do wonders.”
The Sanchez family’s involvement was orchestrated by Todd Becker, the managing director at Clubfoot Solutions of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Clubfoot Solutions is a nonprofit organization that champions clubfoot awareness and the Ponseti Method. The group also created the “Iowa Brace,” a small device worn to help ward off clubfoot recurrence.
Perhaps Freddy Sanchez was most impressed with Dr. Jose Morcuende, co-founder of Clubfoot Solutions.
“We really didn’t have expectations, we just wanted to go meet Dr. Morcuende,” Freddy Sanchez said. “What a great guy, Dr. M is. He’s just unbelievable.”
Though World Clubfoot day’s main aim was to draw awareness of a rather common infliction and its not-so-known cures and remedies, the week’s events had an added affect.
“Like anything else, you have to do your research to realize OK, is this something that we really want to back totally and once we did our research and continued to talk to Todd, then it became just a no-brainer,” Freddy Sanchez said. “We’re just a tiny part of it, but any little thing that we can do to help, we told them we wanted to and we told them we’d like to go out there annually or every other year to see the kids or see Dr. M.”